My introduction to compost was a gift from my Dad. As a farm boy and soil scientist, he had an avid interest in compost long before it became trendy. Some of my earliest memories were of him turning and tending his compost piles. When I was in grade school, our home had a rather small backyard. Since space was limited, he cut the bottoms out of steel drums (aka steel barrels) and made tubes out of them. He stood them up on their ends and filled them with kitchen scraps and yard waste. To turn his piles, he picked his barrels up to let the composting material fall out the bottom. Then he added new material to the bottom of the barrel tube and layered older material on the top. He kept rabbit(s), not for food or company, but for their nutrient processing abilities. Table scraps, lawn clippings and freshly pruned branches went to the rabbit(s). Their pellets (dung, manure, poop, what ever you call it) went into the compost barrel. I also remember him adding barley seeds to the top of his compost when he needed more “green material”. After the seeds sprouted, he turned them into the compost. Later on he moved to a 60+ acre farm. His composting system became very sophisticated. He adapted the shaker design that my mother used in archeological digs for use in his compost pile. His piles steamed so much he kept thermometers in them to prevent spontaneous combustion. He and my mother enjoyed using the end product in amazing gardens. It was my mother’s artistic touch that transformed my Dad’s practical expertise into magical experiences that feed both body and soul.
My college education as a biology major added to my understanding of the composting process. As a General Biology major at Fresno State University and San Diego State University, I learned the basics of the chemical processes, biochemical processes and ecological processes involved. Plant ecology and microbiology were particularly helpful. Don’t worry, you don’t need to crack a text book to make good compost. Yet I have discovered that every thing I learned somehow helps every thing else I learn or do either directly or indirectly. I certainly didn’t major in biology in order to make compost.
On the job training as an Environmental Scientist helped as well. Training in everything from the Leaky Underground Storage Tank Program (LUST) to Stormwater Quality provided me with better understanding of the scientific concepts applied in the composting process and how it should be managed. Ultimately, the most direct and beneficial training came from the Master Composter Program of the Mojave Desert & Mountain Recycling Authority. Don Woo, Master Composter Coordinator, puts on an outstanding training program. Following initial training, Master Composters Meetings are provided. When I am able to attend, I find the featured speakers to be extremely informative. The interaction with other trainees at these meetings is always priceless. The Facebook Group “Master Composters-Mojave Desert/Mountains” moderated by Don Woo is extremely helpful. The facebook group provides interaction with other composters that I find to be indispensable.
Lately, Dad decided that my training in soil science, composting, and gardening needs serious improvement. He recently he directed me to study a list of links posted by New Mexico State University’s Artesia Science Center. As I study the links he sends me, I will be sure to share summaries with you. No doubt Dad will be critiquing my posts behind the scenes. That could be a good thing for all of us. Something tells me that Dad’s new interest in my blog is the beginning of my real education. When it comes to all things soils, he has at least a 65 year head start. (He is only 20 years older than me, but he has been very focused, hard worker.) I doubt I will ever catch up, but I intend to learn as much from his guidance as a can.